Smokers Are Liars

But a new study only gets at half of it

Washington D.C.-based Legacy, a “public health organization dedicated to building a world where anyone can quit,” recently released a study addressing the honesty of smokers. They surveyed 3,146 adults, asking them if they ever concealed their smoking status—i.e. whether or not they smoked—from health care providers. One in ten said they did. And you’ve got to wonder about the honesty of the other 90 precent.

But what the study really should have asked was whether the smokers ever concealed how much they smoke from their doctors. As a former smoker (I’m one of those Chantix success stories), I can tell you that when my doctor, Penn internist and Fox 29 medical report Michael Cirigliano, used to ask me how much I smoked, I lied. In fact, when pretty much anyone asked me how much I smoked, I gave a dishonest underestimate. Be Well Philly editor Emily Leaman tells me she does the same thing when her doc asks how many alcoholic beverages she consumes each week. “I always tell them two,” she says. Yeah, right, Em.

But Dr. Mike says he can see right through the lies. “I can tell when someone has a real problem. Someone with a tobacco issue gets fidgety if I leave them waiting a long time. I can smell it on their breath.”

So why can’t we be honest with our docs?

“Here’s the deal,” explains Dr. Mike. “Some people don’t want to disappoint you. Others don’t want to tell you something that will make them come back and see you. There’s a variety of psychological things going on. But if you ask someone how much they smoke or drink, they are invariably going to minimize it. I have asked people if they’ve ever been with a prostitute and they say, ‘Not really.’ And I say, ‘Did you pay?’ It’s just human nature.”